Princeton wins NASA Competition to Develop Plasma Rocket

Aug 30, 2004

NASA has selected engineers at Princeton University to develop an advanced rocket thruster that could send people or robots to other planets with far less propellant than conventional engines.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded a three-year, $4.4 million contract to a team led by Edgar Choueiri, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, to develop an advanced type of rocket called a plasma thruster. The contract is part of a broad effort by NASA to develop "a new class of ambitious robotic and human exploration missions not possible with existing propulsion technologies," according to Ray Taylor, acting deputy director of NASA's Project Prometheus.

Plasma thrusters are unlike conventional rockets because they do not burn fuel. Instead, they produce superheated, electrically charged particles, called plasma, and use electromagnetic forces to propel the plasma particles from the thruster at a very high speed. Plasma thrusters need relatively little propellant because the particles can be made to move much faster than the combustion exhaust from conventional rockets. In Choueiri's system, the particles will be lithium ions.

Plasma propulsion systems have been used in recent space flights, but still do not operate at the very high power levels (hundreds of kilowatts) required for interplanetary flight, said Choueiri. His project, called "Alfa2: Advanced Lithium-fed Applied-field Lorentz Force Accelerator," could result in a rocket design capable of sending heavy cargo and humans to the moon, Mars or beyond.

Choueiri will lead a group that also includes scientists at three NASA facilities -- the Glenn Research Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marshall Space Flight Center -- in addition to the University of Michigan and the Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute.

Source: Princeton University

Explore further: Mysteries of space dust revealed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

MIPT-based researcher models Titan's atmosphere

Jul 24, 2014

A researcher from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Prof. Vladimir Krasnopolsky, who heads the Laboratory of High Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy of Planetary Atmospheres, has published the results of the comparison ...

PPPL studies plasma's role in synthesizing nanoparticles

Jul 22, 2014

DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has received some $4.3 million of DOE Office of Science funding, over three years, to develop an increased understanding of the role of plasma in the synthesis ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

5 hours ago

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

10 hours ago

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

How can we find tiny particles in exoplanet atmospheres?

10 hours ago

It may seem like magic, but astronomers have worked out a scheme that will allow them to detect and measure particles ten times smaller than the width of a human hair, even at many light-years distance.  ...

Spitzer telescope witnesses asteroid smashup

Aug 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the ...

User comments : 0